Enduring Love

In our reading today (Ecclesiastes 11-Song of Solomon 8), we conclude the poetic books of the Old Testament.  Tomorrow we begin the Prophets, seventeen books in all.

In our English Bibles, the poetic books are arranged so that they end on the note of romance with the Song.  In my book I focused on a verse in the final chapter:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
    as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
    jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
    the very flame of the Lord.

Many waters cannot quench love,
    neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
    all the wealth of his house,
    he would be utterly despised.  Song of Solomon 8:6,7 (ESV)

How strong is human love?  Some find it powerful enough to last till the grave.  But not all do.  Jesus said there would be no human marriage in heaven, but the Church, called His body and His bride, will be married to Him (Luke 20:34-36; Ephesians 5:22-33; Revelation 19:6-10).  Human love at its best is a faint picture of the eternal marriage of Christ and His bride.

It is of little consequence that you have not found lifelong love here on earth, as long as you have by grace through faith become part of Christ’s Church.  You will be part of His bride in a love stronger than death.  If you have this hope, rejoice in the coming marriage of the Lamb.

His Desire is For Me

It is wonderful to know that the one you love so much, loves you just as much. How much more to know that the Eternal God knows, loves, and has set you apart for Himself before you were born!

Today’s reading: Song of Solomon 6-8; Galatians 1

10 I am my beloved’s,
and his desire is for me. Song of Solomon 7:10

15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Galatians 1:15-17

Human love is a reflection of the love of Christ for His Church. For that reason, we can learn a little about Christ’s love from real life love stories.

In Solomon’s Song, he tells us of a beautiful and passionate love between a man and a woman. They describe each other with tenderness and awe. Each has found in the other all they could ever want in a spouse. No one or nothing could draw them away. They long to be together. They revel in being desired by each other.

In officiating weddings, I frequently use a famous prayer by Dr. Lewis Evans, the same one our pastor prayed for us. The next to last paragraph says, “May they never take each other for granted, but always experience that breathless wonder that exclaims, ‘Out of all this world you have chosen me!’” Amen.

But there is an even greater love. It is the love of God. It is love which existed before time. It is love which planned our existence and, if God is pleased, chose us to be His own and to do His will. Paul was enthralled with the wonder of God’s grace, His undeserved, unmerited favor. Paul never stopped exclaiming with breathless wonder, “Out of all this world, God has chosen me!”

Do you marvel that God was pleased to reveal His Son to you? God was not forced to do it. He chose to do it because it pleased Him to do it. Like the bride in the Song, never stop exclaiming, “I am My Beloved’s and His desire is for me.”

The God of Peace and the Peace of God

In the best human relationships, there are moments of deep disappointment, alienation, pride, and disagreement, but the God of love and peace is glorified when these are overcome and restoration occurs.

Today’s reading: Song of Solomon 4-5; 2 Corinthians 13

6 I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.                                              Song of Solomon 5:6

11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

Romantic love has its ups and downs, and Solomon paints that picture in his Song. Anyone who has ever been in love can relate to this: the exhilaration of the first glimpse of the one who steals your heart completely (4:9) and the agony of possible loss of that relationship forever (5:6). We feel this is a risk worth taking, because God said on the sixth day of creation, “It is not good that the man should be alone;” (Genesis 2:18a). So, most of us pursue a lifelong, loving relationship with a mate. Alas, it can be elusive.  When found, it is never without difficulties and setbacks. But it is pleasing to the God of love to find it, and to nurture it.

In the church, Christians are called to live in love demonstrating true discipleship through a level of sacrificial love faintly reflecting that of Jesus Christ (John 13:34, 35). The Corinthian church of Paul’s day had plenty of challenges. They were divided. They were drawn away from the true faith by “super apostles”. They were tolerant of gross sin in their midst. All this was lamentable, but not fatal, to the fellowship. Paul has instructed them in the two letters, which we still have, as to how to overcome these problems and be restored to a life of peace together. This is what God calls them to.

All of us, believers, need one another in the context of the local church. We are called out to be His body and to work together for His glory. He is not glorified when sin is overlooked and tolerated and when there is division and competition that negates the message of reconciliation with God. That reconciliation with Him is the foundation for our reconciliation with one another. For us who are married in Christ, we also are called to model, on a human level, the relationship of Christ and His Church. The same commands and promises Paul gave the church in Corinth apply to us who are married. Seek to be such that the God of peace and the peace of God are always with you.

Unstoppable Love

Love overcomes any obstacle and pays whatever price necessary for the beloved.

Today’s reading: Song of Solomon 1-3; 2 Corinthians 12

8 The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes,
leaping over the mountains,
bounding over the hills.                                                       Song of Solomon 2:8

15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.       2 Corinthians 12:15a

Over the centuries, there have been various allegorical interpretations set forth about the Song of Solomon which attempt to minimize the impact of the obvious sensual language here. It is widely held among evangelical scholars today that the poem clearly speaks of the beauty of sexual love between a man and woman in the context of marriage. While sex has been and is abused and misused by humanity the world over, nevertheless, when experienced within the boundaries set by God’s law, it is honorable and God-glorifying (Hebrews 13:4).   Paul’s comparison of the relationship of Christ and the Church to that of the relationship between a groom and bride does not denigrate the former relationship, but, rather, ennobles the latter (Ephesians 5:22-33).

Song of Solomon speaks poignantly to the intense attraction and desire between a man and a woman in love. Here this attraction is not degraded or sinful but exalted and celebrated. We ought never to jump to an allegory to hide the original message of the honor of human love and the sexual relationship between a husband and wife. The beloved revels in hearing her lover’s voice. Her joy is palpable as she anticipates his arrival. He leaps over mountains and bounds over hills to get to her. His love is unstoppable.

Paul looks at the Church with the same longing that a bridegroom has for his bride. He is jealous for the Corinthian congregation as she seems to be on the verge of being seduced away from a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” by “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:2-5). He has been making his case against these usurpers showing his own devotion to the Lord and to them. Though Paul is merely a messenger of Christ, he loves the Church on behalf of Christ. He loves whom the Lord loves, His elect people. So in showing that his ministry is authentic and reliable, he enumerates how he has and will pay a price to serve them in the gospel. “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls,” he tells them. He pours himself out for them, and he does it joyfully, wholeheartedly.

If you are married, take time to consider how your marriage is reflecting the godly love and commitment of Christ to the Church. Whether you are a married or a single believer, think about the price Christ paid for your soul because of His unstoppable love for you.

Enduring Love

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 11:1-Song of Solomon 8:14

My selection: Song of Solomon 8:6,7

6 Set me as a seal upon your heart,

as a seal upon your arm,

for love is strong as death,

jealousy is fierce as the grave.

Its flashes are flashes of fire,

the very flame of the Lord.

7 Many waters cannot quench love,

neither can floods drown it.

If a man offered for love

all the wealth of his house,

he would be utterly despised.

My reflections: True love between a husband and wife must endure a lifetime of trials and stresses, many waters and even floods. Will it last? That is the question many a young person has asked standing at the threshold of adult life.

Experience shows that sometimes that apparently endless love of youth endures the trials of life and sometimes it does not. What is the difference? Mere physical attraction is not enough. The strength and beauty of youth fades away with time. Ecclesiastes 12 paints a dramatic portrait of the body wearing down and desire failing.

Commitment is the difference. The bride says “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm…” She is right to require this. Only this kind of permanent seal that affects both the heart and the body will endure until death breaks it.

My challenge: If you are in love, are you committed? Can you say, “I have set you as a seal upon my heart, as a seal upon my arm,”  that is, my heart is yours,  my body is yours. Will your love endure the flood waters that are sure to come? Do not enter into marriage without that commitment. To the already-married, I say, search your heart and determine to make this kind of commitment to your spouse, if you have not already.

Tomorrow’s reading: Isaiah 1:1-4:6

Overlooking a Curse; Forgiving an Offender

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 7:1-10:20

My selection: Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.

My reflections: Solomon says one should not be too concerned about the random comments of people. If you listen long enough you will hear the most bizarre things. Someone, who should honor you, will instead curse you. But wait, says the wise king, you have done this, too.

The point, Solomon is making, is you should ignore a lot of what is being said about you, because you need others to ignore some of the things you have said about them.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ we learn that God does not merely overlook sins, but He forgives sinners who repent. The Lord amplified this concept of forgiveness in His parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35). One who is forgiven ought to show forgiveness. Forgiveness should promote more forgiveness. To overlook offenses is good but to forgive them is godly.

My challenge: Beware of taking to heart all you hear. Remember: a fool will allow anger to become “lodged” in his heart (Eccl. 7:9). Overlook. Forgive as you have been forgiven.

Tomorrow’s reading: Ecclesiastes 11:1-Song of Solomon 8:14